Ever since her days as a young girl in Jasper, Kim Lampert has loved to be outdoors.
"We were always encouraged to be outside by friends and family," recalls Lampert, who since January 2018 has served Franklin County as its district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"I was always interested in growing flowers or finding out why trees grow," she goes on. "And always being outside, you naturally pick things up."
And naturally she was called to a profession where knowledge of outdoor life – and a quest to learn more – is often rewarded.
"Our motto is 'Helping people help the land,' and we absolutely get to do that," states the native Hoosier with degrees from Vincennes and Purdue universities. "We're actually helping people day to day with their conservation practices. That's most rewarding, because people are so pleased to find solutions to their problems, which benefits their family, their farm and often their animals."
The Morris resident gives a brief history of her organization.
"Most people don't understand it's a federal agency," she explains. "Under the United States Department of Agriculture umbrella, there's the (NRCS) and its sister, Farm Service Agency. It was started in the 1930s due to complications with the Dust Bowl, and later became known as Soil Conservation Service until the 1990s.
"We're housed in a USDA service center and share the building with FSA and the Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District," she continues. "They're our main partners, but the beauty of the job is we work with a lot of different partners in conservation planning."
Other groups include the Purdue Extension office, Indiana Department of Natural Resources (and its divisions of forestry, fish and wildlife, and water) and Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
"Say you're a landowner," Lampert starts. "Maybe you've had erosion problems or want to develop property for a wildlife habitat, forestry or other type of production. Maybe you want to put up a seasonal high tunnel. We'll come out and do an evaluation. We can give you answers and, depending on what it is, get you into a cost-share program like our conservation technical assistance."
After a wet spring, the conservationist counted what seemed like a record number of erosion questions and streambank stabilization issues. Besides dampness hindering various projects, according to Lampert there are other concerns landowners should stay abreast of.
"We look to partner with different community organizations, like Master Gardeners or the Food and Growers Association, on how best to get information to the public," says Lampert, who enjoys gardening, hiking and taking her dog to Liberty Park.
"An example is the worldwide decline in natural pollinators – bees and bee colonies," she adds. "Nationally, our agency has worked with groups to show that's a serious problem that pretty much affects everything you eat. Another big thing now is identifying invasive species. Just last week, we were telling people what these can do to their land and why it's important they're not there."
Lampert has spent considerable time in several parts of the state, no more so than in her previous position as soil conservationist for NRCS' Greensburg Technical Team. While there, she floated around 14 counties – from Jefferson in the south to Hancock in the north – doing mostly behind-the-scenes technical field work.
Serving the public daily at her new location was a bit of a learning curve.
"It's drastically different," she notes. "There's a lot expected of you. People come in with questions ... they know they have a problem and want a solution to that problem. As taxpayers, people feel that we should be able to fix all their problems. We do the best we can, but unfortunately it's not always possible."
Making her job easier is additional training and a support system that includes a grazing specialist and a field planning guru. No help is more valued, though, than that from agencies just a step away.
"The FCSWCD is absolutely key," she offers. "You have officials – some elected, some appointed – who know the most important issues to address. For instance, using cover crops is really important to properly keep the soil in place, especially with Franklin County's rolling hills."
She adds the FSA is more of an administrative body, but no less essential.
"They have a program called the Conservation Reserve Program," says Lampert. "You as a producer may be interested in tree planting along a water body. We would meet with that landowner and plan the practice, then turn the paperwork over to FSA. Also, they help brand new participants get entered in the USDA system, to map boundaries and establish eligibility for cost sharing."
Lampert cautions property owners against impatience, however.
"Sometimes there's not enough time in the day to fit everything in," she rues. "And sometimes people are affected by resource problems that are so expensive to fix; the problem is much greater than they can afford or we as the government can provide assistance for.
"Another thing that's hard for people to understand is we can't always provide services then and there ... we work on a calendar cycle," she adds. "And because we're a federal agency spread out through every U.S. state and territory, sometimes the paperwork has to cover all possible scenarios, even though X, Y and Z may not (apply to Franklin County)."
Lampert can be reached at email@example.com or 765-647-2651, Ext. 3. Her office is located at 10165 Oxford Pike, Brookville.
As for getting accustomed to the aesthetics of Brookville and Franklin County, Lampert says it not much different than the hometown she left.
"In small communities like this, people take care of and do a lot with what they have."
Will Fehlinger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 112.